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Decommissioning

Although it is imperative that we shut down nuclear plants, they remain dangerous, and expensive even when closed. Radioactive inventories remain present on the site and decommissioning costs have been skyrocketing, presenting the real danger that utilities will not be able to afford to properly shut down and clean up non-operating reactor sites.

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Monday
Nov122012

"Reading Radioactive Tea Leaves": Kewaunee reactor to shut down

John LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WIJohn LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WI (pictured left) has penned an op-ed,"Reading Radioactive Tea Leaves: Without a Buyer for Old Kewaunee Reactor, Owner Chooses Shut Down." In it, he details the many radioactive bullets Wisconsin has dodged, and has not dodged, at Kewaunee, just in recent years, including: "...a 2009 emergency shutdown caused by improper steam pressure instrument settings; a 2007 loss of main turbine oil pressure; an emergency cooling water system design flaw found in 2006; [the August 2006 discovery of radioactive tritium leaking into groundwater, for an unknown period, from unidentified pipes somewhere beneath the reactor complex]; a possible leak in November 2005 of highly radioactive primary coolant into secondary coolant which is discharged to Lake Michigan; a simultaneous failure of all three emergency cooling water pumps in February 2005, etc.".

Regarding Kewaunee's decommissioning, John also wrote:

"...The industry’s early advertising dream of electricity “too cheap to meter” has become a radiation nightmare too costly to quantify. Initial shutdown expenses for the creaking, leaking 39-year-old monster — waste management and reactor dismantling, containerizing and transporting to dump sites — are roughly predictable. According to the Associated Press, Dominion, which bought Kewaunee in 2005 for $220 million, will “record a $281 million charge in [2013’s] third quarter related to the closing and decommissioning.” But that’s just the earnest money. Literally endless expenditures will be required to keep Kewaunee’s radioactive wastes contained, monitored and out of drinking water for the length of time the federal appeals courts have declared is the required minimum— 300,000 years. 

The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that Dominion has 60 years to see that Kewaunee’s giant footprint is “returned to a greenfield condition.” Just don’t dig under that “greenfield,” Virginia. In August 2006 radioactive tritium was found to have been leaking for an unknown period, from unidentified pipes somewhere beneath the reactor complex. With a radioactive half-life of 12.5 years, those unnumbered tankers of tritium will be part of the groundwater for at least 125 years..."

Nukewatch has watchdogged Kewaunee for decades. On April 23, 2011, Nukewatch organized a "Walk for a Nuclear-Free Future" from Kewaunee to Point Beach's two reactors -- a distance of seven miles, the same as the distance between Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants -- to commemorate the 25th year since the Chernobyl atomic reactor exploded and burned beginning on April 26, 1986. The event took place just six weeks after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe had begun. Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps took part in the walk, and as a keynote speaker along with Natasha Akulenko, a native of Kiev, Ukraine and surivor of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.

Wednesday
Oct242012

Dominion Nuclear's claim that $392 million in decommissioning funds is sufficient are dubious

Reporting on Dominion Nuclear's decision to shut down and decommission the Kewaunee atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Wisconsin (photo, left), World Nuclear News has reported:

"Some $392 million in decommissioning funds for Kewaunee were transferred to Dominion at the time it bought the plant. The company said that Kewaunee's decommissioning trust is currently fully funded, and it believes that the amounts available in the trust plus expected earnings will be sufficient to cover all decommissioning costs expected to be incurred after the plant shut down."

This claim is quite dubious. The Big Rock Point atomic reactor, nearly due east of Kewaunee on Michigan's Lake Michigan shoreline, itself cost $366 million to decommission. But Big Rock Point, at 70 Megawatts-electric, was an order of magnitude smaller than Kewaunee (574 MWe). In addition, although Big Rock Point's owner Consumers Energy has declared its decommissioning completed, and even the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved "un-restricted re-use" for the supposedly "greenfield site," plutonium and other radioactive poisons remain in the soil, groundwater, and very likely flora and fauna. The sediments of the discharge canal, used to dump Big Rock Point's radioactivity into Lake Michigan for 35 years, have not even been checked for radioactive contamination levels, let alone cleaned up. (See the top six entries at NIRS' decommissioning website section for more information about Big Rock Point's inadequate decommissioning).

Thus, Dominion's assurances that $392 million will be sufficient to truly clean up Kewaunee's contaminated site may very well prove false.

Wednesday
Oct242012

"Aging and Expensive, Reactors Face Mothballs"

The Kewaunee atomic reactor on Wisconsin's Lake Michigan shorelineAtomic reactor shutdowns, and the resultant beginning of decommissioning projects, may grow more commonplace soon. The New York Times has reported on the economics that have not only led to the Kewaunee atomic reactor's (photo, left) announced closure in Wisconsin, but also other pressures and forces on reactors, from Entergy's Indian Point near New York City to Vermont Yankee, Duke's Crystal River in Florida, Exelon's Oyster Creek in New Jersey, and Southern California Edison's San Onofre. The article speaks of "[t]he industry’s renewed glimpse of its mortality" and states "the nuclear industry may be nearing its first round of retirements since the mid-1990s."  Kewaunee's closure will be the first at an American atomic reactor since several (Yankee Rowe, Massachusetts; Zion 1 & 2, Illinois; Big Rock Point, Michigan; Millstone Unit 1, Connecticut) in the mid to late 1990s. 

Tuesday
Oct232012

Nearly half of the atomic reactors on Lake Michigan's shores have closed over the past 15 years

NRC file photo of KewauneeFrom The Washington Post: "Dominion Resources Inc. said Monday that it plans to close and decommission its Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin after it was unable to find a buyer for the nuclear power plant".

As nuclear power continues to crumble under the weight of its own disastrous economics, Dominion CEO, Thomas F. Farrell II,  becomes the latest industry CEO to lose confidence in the nuclear business. "This decision was based purely on economics," Farrell said. Dominion also operates the two North Anna, VA reactors, where a proposed third reactor plan looks fragile at best. It also operates Millstone, CT and Surry, VA.

A buyer could not be found, even though the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had already rubberstamped a 20 year license extension at Kewaunee. Today, Dominion notified NRC that it plans to decommission Kewaunee.

Reuters also reported on this story, stating that more atomic reactors could follow suit, their bad economics forcing their closure:

"Especially vulnerable under this scenario would be small, old single reactor sites.

Other units that could be on the hit list because they fit the profile include Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Xcel Energy Inc's Monticello in Minnesota, and Entergy Corp's Palisades in Michigan, Vermont Yankee in Vermont and Pilgrim in Massachusetts."

In 1997, Big Rock Point in Michigan was permanently closed, as were Zion 1 & 2 in Illinois in 1998. Kewaunee's closure in 2013 will be the fifth reactor shut down on Lake Michigan's shores in 15 years. This will leave Point Beach 1 & 2 in WI, Palisades in MI, and Cook 1 & 2 in MI still operating on Lake Michigan's shores. Lake Michigan is a headwaters for the Great Lakes, 20% of the world's surface fresh water, providing drinking water for 40 million people in 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Americans.

Several years ago, Kewaunee had more NRC "yellow findings" (the second highest category of safety violation) than the other (at the time) 102 operating reactors in the entire country. The very same year, Point Beach had more "red findings" (NRC's worst category of safety violation) than the rest of the industry combined. Kewaunee and Point Beach are a mere seven miles apart, the same distance as between Fukushima Daiichi and Daini in Japan. Daiichi and Daini's proximity, as well as their proximity to Tokai nearer Tokyo, led the Japanese federal government to prepare worst case scenario plans to evacuate 30 million people from Tokyo in the event of a "demonic chain reaction" of reactor melt downs and radioactive waste storage pool fires.

An NRC daily event report revealed that Dominion's announcement to decommission Kewaunee caused a security incident, as reporters descended on the reactor to cover the story.

The New York Times and Greenwire have also reported on this story.

Wednesday
Oct172012

"Regulators should begin decommissioning the Palisades Nuclear Plant"

NRC file photo of Palisades atomic reactor

Mark Muhich, a Jackson County resident and chairman of the Central Michigan Group of the Sierra Club, has published a column by the title above at the Jackson Citizen Patriot/MLive. Muhich concluded his column:

"It is time to decommission the crumbling Palisades nuclear facility. Decommissioning will take a decade, and employ thousands of workers. It will also cost $1 billion. The electricity it generates can be made up with efficiencies. Entergy operates six of the oldest most poorly maintained nuclear plants in the county. The NRC should hold Entergy to a stricter standard of safety, not a more relaxed standard. The NRC should begin the decommissioning of Palisades."

But quite to the contrary, NRC rubberstamped Palisades' 20 year license extension in 2007, despite widespread environmental opposition not only in Michigan but throughout the Great Lakes basin.